Like Rodney, The Aftermarket Often Gets No Respect
By Mike Conlon
This is the exasperated lament of comedian Rodney Dangerfield, the bungling, bug-eyed comic, as once again his inept and often flamboyant behavior leaves his antagonists merely shaking their heads. The aftermarket too may often feel like uttering "we just don't get no respect" from the regulators and legislators who are often very knowledgeable about the vehicle manufacturers and work to address their needs while ignoring the aftermarket, the industry that keeps all of those vehicles running safely and efficiently.
A perfect example of this occurred last year in California where some well-meaning but misinformed staff members at the California Air Resources Board proposed prohibiting independent engine rebuilders from participating in a state grant program. The program, the Carl Moyer Memorial Air Quality Standard Attainment Program (that's a mouthful), provides state funds for projects to reduce emissions from heavy duty engines. Among the projects sponsored by the Moyer program are those to retrofit and repower (rebuild) heavy duty engines to reduce their emissions. Up through 2002, these repowers and retrofits could be performed by any qualified service facility. In an unexpected move, however, the CARB staff announced that it was proposing to change the Moyer guidelines to require that only OE-authorized dealerships could perform repowers and retrofits and only OE parts could be used in them.
While the number of vehicles retrofitted or repowered under the Moyer program is relatively modest, the negative effect of such a rule on independent rebuilders would have been much more substantial. If such a restriction were approved, there would be precedent in California for limiting all types of heavy duty retrofits and rebuilding performed under state auspices to OE dealers using OE parts. And, because many other states follow California's lead on emissions issues, such a restriction could easily have spread throughout the nation.
However, through the quick and combined actions of the Engine Rebuilders Association (AERA), the independent heavy duty engine parts manufacturers, and heavy duty rebuilders in California, the CARB staff was first educated on the competence and expertise of independent heavy duty facilities and then convinced to drastically modify their proposal. As a result, non-OE facilities will still be allowed to participate in the program and use non OE parts as long as the resulting engine and parts are "functionally equivalent from an emissions and durability standpoint" to the OE engine and its components.
Once this victory was achieved, however, the CARB Board still left it to the staff to prepare guidelines on how independent facilities could participate in the program. These guidelines would be of great importance because if they were written too narrowly, or especially if they required durability testing of engines rebuilt under the program, they would still effectively deny independents access to Moyer funds.
To avoid this result, AERA drafted its own proposed guidelines which provided practical criteria that a rebuilder would have to meet to be in the program, but still gives the CARB staff sufficient comfort that emission reductions would result from the rebuilt engine. After six months of negotiating with the CARB staff over these guidelines, especially over the question of testing, a final set of guidelines was agreed upon in December. These final guidelines are very similar to those originally proposed by AERA.
Under the guidelines an independent rebuilder seeking Moyer funds must submit three things - a letter of qualification regarding the rebuilder and its expertise; a list of any non-OE parts which will be used in the rebuild and the parts they replace; and a detailed description of the work to be performed.
The letter of qualification has to include the length of time the rebuilder has been in business, the number of employees it has, what type of heavy duty parts it rebuilds, the number of units it rebuilds annually, the background and experience of its owners, whether it specializes in any particular type or make of engine, whether it has ever previously performed work under the Moyer program or for any other state or Federal agency and whether it has ever been investigated for tampering with heavy duty engines (i.e., modifying or disconnecting any emissions-reduction components).
The rebuilder must also agree to only use OE-parts or non-OE parts from a list which accompanies the letter. It must also affirm that the rebuilt engine will be functionally equivalent from an emissions and durability standpoint to the OE engine it is replacing.
The non-OE parts list must include the serial number, make, model year and configuration of the original engine; the component parts list for that engine; the OE number and description of any parts being replaced; the identification number of any non-OE parts to be used; and a statement that the non-OE parts are functionally equivalent to the OE parts they are replacing. This information should be readily available from the parts manufacturers. If necessary, CARB can also request samples of the aftermarket parts for inspection and certain records regarding these parts required to be kept by the manufacturer under California law.
The description of the work to be performed must include a detailed explanation of any re-calibrations or adjustments performed and any work done on components that are removed from the engine and then re-installed.
With respect to testing, the guidelines acknowledge that CARB has a right to require that any engine rebuilt under the program be tested for emissions, whether it was rebuilt by an OE or non-OE rebuilder. However, they also state that testing will not normally be required unless CARB has reason to believe that the rebuilt engine is not "functionally equivalent from an emissions and durability standpoint" to the engine it is replacing.
While these requirements will create some extra burden for any independent rebuilder who wants to participate in the Moyer program, they do keep the door open for participation. And once a rebuilder has successfully performed a repower or retrofit under the program, it is expected that CARB will require much less information for any future work.
However, maybe the most important result of the Moyer discussions is that now California regulators have a better understanding of independent rebuilders and the aftermarket in general. This can only help when other issues of importance came up. It actually did help the industry have a greater voice in working with CARB on its pending heavy duty on-board-diagnostic information access rules. Maybe, just maybe, the industry has earned the respect it deserves.
Mike Conlon is legal counsel for the Engine Rebuilders Association (AERA) and the Automotive Parts Rebuilders Association (APRA). He is an attorney with the Washington, DC, firm of Conlon, Frantz, Phelan, Knapp & Piers.